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Spending on parks and neighbourhood services in Scotland

Parks are the lungs of our community, However, cuts in spending since 2010 has left many of these valuable green assets fighting for breath.  

A new report by APSE Scotland  - written and researched with the New Policy Institute (NPI) - examines what has happened to spending on parks and open spaces by Scottish local authorities. To provide context, the report also looks at spending on the wider group of local authority neighbourhood services - the services that local authorities provide that are neither education, social care nor housing. 

The main findings are: 

  1. Spending on parks has been hit harder than spending in general. From a peak in 2008/09, parks have seen deeper cuts in spending (down by a third) than neighbourhood services (down a fifth) and all local government services (down a tenth). Half the fall in spending on parks had happened by 2010/11. 
  1. Parks have been hit about as hard in Scotland as England. Between 2009/10 and 2017/18, the percentage fall in net spending on parks was the same in Scotland as in England. The fall for neighbourhood services was less in Scotland. 
  1. Revenue has been less buoyant in Scotland than England. Customer and client receipts produce less income for neighbourhood services in Scotland than in England. Rising in England, this income has been falling in Scotland. 
  1. The all-Scotland parks average is only a rough guide to what has happened in individual local authority areas. Over the five years to 2017/18, 10 authorities saw no falls in gross spending on parks while 5 saw falls more than double the average. 
  1. Neighbourhood services have a low priority attached to them compared with other services. APSE has identified 2012/13 as the minimum sustainable level for local government UK-wide. Budget data suggests that after inflation, total council service spending in Scotland in 2019/20 is above the 2012/13 level whereas spending on neighbourhood services is below. 

Paul O’Brien, Chief Executive of APSE said “Parks and neighbourhood services are universal services. Frustratingly, the contribution of these services to wellbeing and health is often hidden. It has been estimated that parks contribute £2.8bn per year to Scotland’s community health and wellbeing. In turn, this saves NHS Scotland some £9m per year, including fewer GP visits. Neighbourhood services have demonstrated their resilience during these challenging times and we cannot risk these services being hollowed out and unable to respond in the future.”

Chair of APSE Scotland, Cllr Les Sharp said “Though councillors and officers have faced some very tough budget decisions, many out with their direct control, recent events ought to make decision-makers wake up to the consequences of serious underinvestment in our neighbourhood services. Clean and green neighbourhoods are the bedrock for happier and healthier local communities. Furthermore, they are vital to the fight against climate change; supporting biodiversity, absorbing flood water, improving air quality and mitigating urban heat. Future decision making needs to be made through the prism of value rather than just cost, and APSE believes our neighbourhood services have demonstrated their value tenfold throughout this current crisis .”  

 The past few months have shown just how important our parks are to maintaining the health and well-being of local communities. By bringing into focus the enormous benefits of our greenspace, the pandemic has raised many issues about the role of parks in society: particularly how they are funded. The report demonstrates that the underfunding of neighbourhood services, which has been taking place over the last decade, undermines the very essence of local government and needs to be reversed.  

The full report is free to download.  

Download Report (pdf)


Notes to Editors 

This report was written and researched based on data up to August 2019 . Whilst the impact of COVID-19 has had a further impact on parks and neighbourhood services within Scotland this report provides an analysis of the baseline upon which these services responded to the health pandemic and will help to inform public policy going forward. 

APSE is a not-for-profit organisation working with over 300 UK wide local authorities. Specialising in supporting frontline services as well as policy development for local councils. APSE Scotland supports all the local councils in Scotland in improving and supporting local government frontline services. 

New Policy Institute (NPI) is a UK research institute which produces evidence-based research on a range of social and economic issues. The report authors are Josh Holden and Dr Peter Kenway 

To arrange for interview or press features please contact Mo Baines on mbaines@apse.org.uk 

Not a APSE member? Click here to find out more. 


Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.






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